A Wrinkle in Time (1962)

by Madeleine L'Engle

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A Wrinkle in Time is the story of a high-school girl named Meg who is thrust into an incredible adventure through time and space to rescue her scientist father from the evil forces that are holding him prisoner on another planet. With her prodigal brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin O’Keffe, along with the help of many other fantastic creatures, Meg goes on an adventure of a lifetime.

The Story:
Meg Murry has it rough: she has a gorgeous mother who is a scientific genius, two well-adjusted twin brothers who are quite popular at their school, and a physicist father who has been missing for over a year. Meg, on the other hand, is an awkward teenage girl just struggling to fit in, until one unbelievable night her life is completely changed.

One dark, stormy night, Meg is awakened by strange noises. Believing that it might be the tramp that stole Mrs. Buncombe’s sheets a few days prior, Meg gets up to investigate.

To her surprise, it is a bumbling old woman named Mrs. Whatsit, but as this novel proves time and time again, things are not always as they seem. Mrs. Whatsit is actually a celestial creature with the ability to read her thoughts, and little does Meg know that this encounter will be the springboard for the most fantastic adventure she has ever been on.

Meg and her five-year-old prodigal brother Charles Wallace team up with popular jock Calvin O’Keefe on their out-of-this-world adventure throughout space and time. After visiting the home of Mrs. Whatsit and her friends Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, they learn that the universe is being threatened by a great evil force called the Dark Thing—a giant cloud that completely engulfs the stars around it, taking over planets and completely controlling their inhabitants. They learn, too, that Meg’s father is being held prisoner on one of those overtaken planets: Camazotz.

With the help of the three Mrs. W’s, the children are transported to Camazotz where every thing and every one are exactly the same—adults travel to work the same time at the same beat and children bounce balls and jump rope in the same rhythm. In fact, the entire planet is has been conformed to the horrifying pulsation of IT, a giant brain controlling the planet.
The three Mrs. W’s explain that they cannot go with them on their journey, but equip them with special gifts to overcome the evil and bring Mr. Murry home and warn them to stick together. The children travel to Central Intelligence where IT controls the entire planet, and Charles Wallace tries going up against IT with his own intelligence. Unfortunately, he is overpowered and becomes robot-like like everyone else on the planet. He is now under the control of IT—his thoughts, words, and actions are not his own.

Charles Wallace does, however, lead Meg and Calvin to Mr. Murry, and they try to rescue him from the evil clutches of IT. They free him, but they cannot overpower IT—escaping at the last minute they tesser away to a planet called Ixchel, leaving Charles Wallace behind.

Ixchel is a planet inhabited by tall furry beasts who cannot see. They do, however, care for the travelers and nurse them back to health. The three Mrs. W’s appear again, and it is then that Meg realizes that she alone has to go back to rescue her brother. To reassure her, Mrs. Which tells her that she has within her the power to defeat the IT--it is something that she has that IT does not, but she must find that out for herself.

Meg travels back to Camazotz by herself, and confronts the IT. It is then that she realizes that her power is her ability to love, so she concentrates on her love for her brother. The IT cannot withstand her power, and Charles Wallace released from its clutches. Together, they tesser away and end up in the vegetable garden right outside their home on earth, where their father and Calvin are waiting.

Overall, A Wrinkle in Time is an excellent novel for young adults; it's fantasy encourages adolescents to use their imaginations, and the characters and their struggles are very relatable to adolescents. The underlying themes of good and evil, love, and self-sacrifice relay important lessons that adolescents can apply to their everyday lives.

Recommendations for Teachers
In his publication, "You Gotta Be the Book," (1997), Jeffrey Wilhelm, teacher and researcher, analyzed the different approaches that engaged readers versus less engaged readers employ. What he determined was that for less engaged readers the dimensions (levels) of response are order dependent; that less engaged readers, unlike engaged readers, do not intuitively respond in connective or reflective ways to their reading unless they first overtly respond on all the evocative dimensions. In short, the engaged reading process is sequential, and liken to Piaget's stage theory, no stages can be skipped over, neglected or rushed through. Consequently, to have a successful reading experience it is critical that the readers enter the story world, the first step to a successful reading experience. To do so they must relinquish their hold on the real world; in effect mentally escape from their surroundings and allow themselves to enter the story. They must be a part of it and bring with them their own life experiences. Based on this premise, the teacher's initial introduction of A Wrinkle in Time is going to be pivotal in determining whether or not a reluctant reader is going to take the "hook." To begin with, the teacher might use a combination of art, music and fragrance coupled with quiet time and open discussion to try to evoke student memories of their feelings and their emotive responses to smells, colors and sounds that they will experience early in the story. Throughout the book the author continues to make associations between these qualities and emotions. Initial discussion could focus on the cover. (The cover with the children on the back of the creature) Around the room display pictures of "creatures" that the students may have come into contact with in movies and TV and ask questions to generate interest. Is a cover of the book intended to tell you anything? Look at the cover of Wrinkle in Time. What do you notice first of all? What is that thing? How would you describe it..human, animal? Where else have you seen strange creatures? Centaurs, unicorns..what about Wookies and Yoda? Would you describe these creatures as beneficial, helpful, good or evil? How did they help/hurt the characters? What is your initial feeling towards them..trusting or fearful? Take another look at the cover. What is the significance of the children riding on the back? Maybe a trip, a voyage, maybe an escape? What was that flying dog-like thing in Never Ending Story? What was its role? Did you ever imagine yourself riding on that? What a great feeling that must have been, swooping down on the kids that had thrown you in the dumpster and taken your lunch money. How would you like to have that kind of a bodyguard? After discussion, use the Internet to find pictures of some of their favorite creatures, or allow time to create one.

Related Links:
Glencoe Literature Library
Information about the movie
Teacher Resources for A Wrinkle in Time
A Tribute from the Washington Post
Lesson Plans and Activities

About the Author:
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Madeleine L’Engle was born in 1918 and spent her childhood in New York City. Even at a young age she favored writing, poems, and her personal journals over her school work. At 12 she was sent to an English boarding school were her joy of writing grew. Madeleine moved back to the United States for high school where she attended Ashley Hall in Charleston, South Carolina. After high school she attended Smith College and studies English and continued to write.

After graduating from college with honors, Madeleine moved to Greenwich Village in New York. There she worked in theater and even had time to write. It was at this time that she wrote her first two novels, A Small Rain and Ilsa. It was around this time that she met Hugh Franklin, who became her husband.

Madeleine had children and moved her family to Connecticut to raise them. After nine years of living in Connecticut and running a general store, Madeleine, Hugh, and their three children moved back to New York. In New York Madeleine kept on writing and Hugh continued his acting career. After her husband’s death in 1986, Madeleine turned to her writing to keep her going. Madeleine passed away September 6, 2007 in New York City. She had written over 60 books, including A Wrinkle In Time.

To read more about Madeleine L’Engle visit her website.

Other Works by Madeleine L'Engle:
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For a complete list of works by Madeleine L'Engle click here.

In 2004, Katie Stuart (as Meg), Gregory Smith (as Calvin), and David Dorfman (as Charles Wallace) starred in the cinematic remake of this classic novel. The clip below is the final scene in which Meg is bravely going up against IT to save her brother.

Cover Art:
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